Gary Busher, local coordinator for the Second Harvest Food Bank distribution, said he is doing the best he can to cope with a decrease in food and an increase in commodity applicants. “Where once we got 8 to 10 pallets, now we’re getting 4,” he said. “And the problem is that more and more people have less and less.”
Busher said that in the month of September 2009 his volunteers distributed 175 food boxes or enough to feed about 350 people. Last month, his group distributed 300 boxes to more than 500 recipients. “We can’t take any more applicants,” he said. Distribution occurs on the first Tuesday of every month at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Tollgate Road. “Cars lined up on Tollgate now stretch all the way back to Idyllwild Arts,” Busher said.
Non-seniors must sign up for the United States Department of Agriculture Commodities program and meet income qualifications, Busher said. Seniors do not have to demonstrate income qualification.
The decline in available food is also apparent at the Friday food distribution conducted by Chapel in the Pines in Mountain Center, coordinator Larry Kribs said.
Second Harvest also partly supplies the Chapel program. All other donations come from local food retailers.
“We’re seeing quantity and variety being reduced, with a lot more bakery goods and less produce and protein,” Kribs said. “We’re at the mercy of the stores [grocery retailers that donate food products to food banks].”
The poor economy is the reason for the decline in supplies, according to Second Harvest Riverside Executive Director Darryl Brock. “The supply of food available through the USDA Commodities Program has dropped off nationwide,” he explained. “Where once we received 16 truckloads per month [to be distributed throughout western Riverside and San Bernardino counties], we are now down to five.” He said the economic downturn has increased demand nationwide at the same time the federal government has had to adjust its budgets and its price support for farmers. The price support system for commodity distribution has been lessened.
“Also, the commodities program additionally subsidizes hospitals, school lunches and prisons as well as average citizens in need,” Brock said. “There is just not enough now.”
He said that decline in federal assistance is coupled with a decline in what food retailers normally donate. “Food retailers are only stocking what they think they can sell and as a result they have much less to donate to food banks,” Brock said. “The volume and variety are not as available as they once were and I don’t know what the future holds.”
Brock stressed that neither Second Harvest nor its Idyllwild distribution centers can provide more food if pipeline sources begin to dry. “If it’s not donated, we don’t have it available for distribution. We don’t purchase food. Everything we distribute is donated from food retailers or through the now declining federal program.
“This decline in supplies and greater demand are caused by many factors. It’s particularly apparent in the Inland Empire with its very high unemployment rate and between 700 and 800 thousand people living at or below the poverty line,” Brock said.
As a result, both Idyllwild food distribution programs face challenges, although their volunteers remain committed. “I’m doing the best I can to make sure everyone has something,” Busher said.